Better Than Google Translate: The Bible Translator’s Assistant | Wycliffe Bible Translators

Better Than Google Translate: The Bible Translator’s Assistant

  • May 10, 2022
  • By: Catherine Graul
translators working on laptops

Have you ever wondered if we could use tools like Google Translate to help speed up Bible translation? One significant challenge is that Google Translate only works with major languages which have lots of recorded data available. Most of the languages in the world without a Bible translation are minority languages with few resources. (There are many more reasons why Google can’t translate the Bible though!)

The Bible Translator’s Assistant is a cutting-edge software to help bridge that gap. Developed by Wycliffe Bible Translators Canada in collaboration with partners like Wycliffe USA, The Bible Translator’s Assistant (TBTA) is speeding up Bible translation!

What is The Bible Translator’s Assistant?

The Bible Translator’s Assistant (TBTA) is an innovative translation software that is able to combine grammar analysis of a language with templates of books of the Bible and create the initial translated draft. The software can be used with any language that has been analyzed to work with the program, and the initial draft includes both exegetical and linguistic notes. Local translators then polish the draft through a variety of team and community checks.

Language communities who have used TBTA report that it reduces the overall time and cost of translating a Scripture up to 40%. This means an Old Testament could be translated in half the time or an entire Bible translation could be completed in 12-13 years rather than the average of 20 years!

TBTA may reduce the time needed for consultant checking, contribute to the naturalness of a translation, improve team dynamics and collaboration and enable local translators to work more independently.

Pastor Dino Abuque, a translator with the Ayta Mag-Indi language, said, “[Before TBTA] we would translate the Word of God from Tagalog into our language, and it was a long process. Not like now where right away it is in our language and we just have to make it good.”

Combining Computers and Linguistics

Roger Stone is a translation consultant in the Philippines and also helps coordinate translation for three languages in the Ayta Cluster project. His team has been pioneering using TBTA to help with Bible translation.

“I’ve always had an interest in computational linguistics,” Roger said. A computer science major, Roger first joined Wycliffe to serve in computer support services in the Philippines. “I had all these reasons I couldn’t be a Bible [translation adviser],” he said. “But one by one, God wiped them away.”

Eventually Roger took linguistic classes and returned to the Philippines to serve in translation. He was fascinated by the possibilities of using computers to help with translation. “I had read about TBTA in an article,” he said, “and I was intrigued.”

So when Roger heard that one of the developers of TBTA was in Manila, Philippines, he reached out. They started experimenting with using the software to assist with translation for the Ayta Mag-Indi translation team. Eventually they were able to get the grammar developed to produce rough translation drafts.

“We did that on the side until COVID-19 hit,” Roger said. “We had just submitted a New Testament to the publishers, so we were sitting around without a lot to do. We picked up [TBTA] and started to develop the Ayta Mag-Indi grammar a lot more.”

Soon they were generating first drafts, and the project took off. Roger said: “From the time we started to 10 months later, we were able to generate [the entire] book of Genesis, run through all the checks and get it published! And Genesis is a pretty large book!”

Looking to the Future

TBTA is able to produce a useful first draft due in large part to the accuracy of the templates. Templates are being built for each book of the Bible and each template includes important exegetical and grammatical information. Currently the TBTA team has developed templates for 30% of the Bible and are actively working on the remaining 70% as well as templates for community development resources. In order to make sure each template accurately conveys the meaning of Scripture, the TBTA team includes exegetical experts, translation consultants and software programmers. The templates are continually checked and refined by translation programs around the world which share feedback with the TBTA team.

Today the TBTA team has openings for different experience levels in a variety of remote linguistic, computer and translation roles. (You can even connect with us to learn about all the possibilities!)

As Roger reflects on the translation process, he remembered his own journey: “In high school, I was very involved in Bible quizzing, and I spent a lot of time memorizing large chunks of Scripture. In the midst of that, I fell in love with God’s Word. It changed my life. When I realized other people groups didn’t even have that opportunity to have the Scriptures in their own languages, it felt like such a logical, natural path to try to help other people have the same thing that I have: [the ability] to study and memorize the Scripture in [their] language.”

The Bible Translator’s Assistant is one of the amazing tools helping to make that reality possible!

To learn more about The Bible Translator’s Assistant, watch this webinar!